Impact Giving | Transforming Loss into Legacy: Remembering Ian Cox Through Mountaineers Scholarships

Get excited for the second annual Ian Cox Memorial Dicks-a-Thon, an athletic event like no other taking place on October 21. The route starts and ends at our Seattle Program Center in Magnuson Park. All proceeds will be donated to The Mountaineers Access Program to support scholarships and five Washington search and rescue organizations.
Bri Vanderlinden Bri Vanderlinden
Director of Development
September 01, 2023
Impact Giving | Transforming Loss into Legacy: Remembering Ian Cox Through Mountaineers  Scholarships
Photo by Asa Sourdiffe.

We all move through the stages of grief at different speeds, and never in the same order. Sadness tends to hit me first, followed by denial and anger. With self-care and some extra time on the trail, acceptance comes into view. In my role at The Mountaineers, I’m often the first person people talk to when sharing the news that a Mountaineers member has passed, and these conversations never get easier. On the bright side, something that is very special about this community is how fast motivation and inspiration presents itself. The spirit of adventure is forever present, even when facing serious loss.

One of my most inspiring memories from the last six years was receiving a call about Mountaineers Member, Ian Cox. As Mountaineers, we had heard Ian’s name circling among search and rescue volunteers. Ian’s close friend, Brian Bickel, was the one who stepped in to make the difficult call and discuss honoring Ian’s memory.

As Brian described, “Ian was everyone's gateway to the great outdoors, a confident and skilled partner on any adventure, an amazingly kind and cheerful friend, and just a great time. He was the first person to suggest hitting the trails on a trek he most assuredly was sandbagging you on, only to then be the one to help you overcome your perceived limits and grow. That pattern of challenging those he loved, guiding the way, and ensuring steady growth is something that permeated every relationship in his life, to often hilarious ends. Hidden behind a knowing smirk radiated an unspoken self-assuredness you could feel and rely upon. I'll never forget the call on a very unfortunate day in my life where I asked for his help burning off some energy, which Ian somehow interpreted to mean a 29-mile trail run with a few rock scrambles. I definitely didn't believe I was ready for that when he explained our route at the trailhead… until we finished it. He also famously told a friend of ours as she pondered if she could finish climbing a mountain 'I'm not going to let you give up the first time you say you quit.’”

IMG_0008.JPGPhoto by Patrick Lacey.

Ian and his twin brother, Connor, started their Mountaineers membership in utero. Their parents, Duncan and Marla Cox, met in the Basic Climbing Class in the early 90s and have continued to volunteer, supporting new students through the Sea Kayaking course. Ian caught the climbing bug from his parents and pursued summits as his main passion in life. He climbed all the major volcanoes in Washington and recorded over 196 ascents.

On an unfortunate day, August 20, 2022, Ian went on a solo trek through the Cascades and didn't return. He was alone on Mt. Degenhardt, on a technical traverse. When he missed a climbing rendezvous and his satellite phone wasn’t triggered, his family knew something was seriously wrong. Even after an exhaustive search and rescue effort, the search for Ian was unsuccessful. The prevailing theory of what happened was that due to receding glaciers, the transition between ice and rock was weakened. As he stepped off the glacier onto rock, the ice gave way, causing him to fall.

In the days and weeks following, Ian’s friends and family came together to imagine how they could honor Ian’s life. As they struggled to cope with the loss and all the feelings that came with it, they found an inspired motivation to turn their grief into something positive and launched the first annual Ian Cox Memorial Dicks-A-Thon, a brilliant and hilarious feat of physical, mental, and gastrointestinal strength — a true testament to Ian’s humor and character.

Ian Cox Memorial Dicks-A-Thon

It will not be easy for me to explain all that this athletic event entails. As Ian’s friends and family have enthusiastically described, The Dick’s-A-Thon is a circumnavigation of Seattle Dick’s Drive Ins, totaling 26 miles. The caveat is that along the way, you have to eat the entire Dick’s menu. Connor Cox encouragingly warns that “You will stumble, you will stagger, you will cramp. Just like Ian would have wanted.”

IMG_0464.JPGPhoto by George Bickel.

If 26 miles and five eating events feels ambitious, you have options. You can join the shorter 14.6 miles and enjoy a limited menu, or the 7.6 mile Victory Lap. If you love food but hate running, you can even support virtually with an eating-only option.

Connor, is the best person to tell the origin story — though you’ll have to subscribe to our digital blog to hear it later this month. No matter what level of challenge you lean into, all proceeds of the event will be donated to The Mountaineers Access Program (MAP), Washington National Parks Fund, and five Washington search and rescue organizations: Snohomish County SAR, King County SAR, Seattle Mountain Rescue, Washington State SAR Planning Unit, and Whatcom County SAR. Together, these organizations continue Ian’s legacy of getting people outdoors and giving back to the search and rescue organizations that gave so much to Ian’s loved ones.

f8aa0bfbee40c58c8ae4381f164890b4.jpgPhoto by George Bickel.

In the first year, over 100 people joined the event to celebrate Ian and raised a miraculous $32,000. In addition to the heroic volunteers carrying on Ian’s legacy, a number of organizations rallied together to support the event. The Pacific Northwest post-hike staple, Dick’s Drive In, served over 500 menu items to fuel participants, and continues that great tradition this year as a key partner. And Ian’s employer, LifeStance Health, donated over $15,000 to match peer donations to the event. Those funds directly benefited MAP, providing need-based scholarships that reduce financial barriers for those seeking adventure and belonging through The Mountaineers.

Ian’s legacy lives on through scholarships

Although eating while running isn’t exactly my favorite way to spend calories, I’m so excited to witness the magic of this event and see it bring meaning to Ian’s legacy. In Fiscal Year 2022, contributions to MAP, such as the gift LifeStance offered in Ian’s memory, provided over $55,000 in scholarships, empowering 253 youth and adults through membership, activities, courses, and more. This year, the proceeds received through the Dicks-A-Thon will continue to support scholarships and help us kick off #GivingTuesday efforts this fall, allowing us to provide more people with positive introductions to the outdoors, regardless of their financial means.

IMG_20180805_102443.jpgPhoto by Asa Sourdiffe.

Those closest to Ian have transformed their experience of great loss to celebrate Ian Cox and the impact he had on their lives. By starting a brand new 501(c)(3), they are working together toward a vision to share Ian’s legacy with the greater Seattle community by getting people out of their comfort zones and into unforgettable adventures. The Mountaineers is proud to sponsor the second annual Dicks-A-Thon, taking place on October 21, 2023 and kicking off from our Program Center in Seattle’s Magnuson Park. Registration is officially open and we hope you'll honor Ian's memory and appetite for challenge by joining us.

Support scholarships at The Mountaineers and sign up to participate or volunteer for the Ian Cox Memorial Dicks-A-Thon at

This article originally appeared in our fall 2023 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our  magazine archive 

Add a comment

Log in to add comments.